(Newsroom America) -- The chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee has launched a broadside at President Obama regarding the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-walking operation that played a role in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2010, saying the president downplayed his involvement or was intentionally obstructing his panel's investigation.
"Either you or your most senior advisers were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it...or, you are asserting a Presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a letter to Obama.
"To date, the White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the Department with respect to the congressional investigation," Issa wrote. "The surprising assertion of executive privilege raised the question of whether that is still the case."
The panel chairman has questioned Obama's legal ability to invoke the privilege, which has provided cover for Attorney General Eric Holder to withhold thousands of documents subpoenaed by the committee.
The Justice Department denied Issa's committee the subpoenaed documents last week, which in turn led to Obama's claim of privilege. The panel has since voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress; a vote of the full House is expected by Thursday.
Issa is seeking documents he says may show Justice and White House deliberations that led to a false assertion by Holder in February 2010 declaring that Fast and Furious was not a gun-walking operation, the National Journal reported Tuesday.
The operation, which was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - which falls under the Justice Department's jurisdiction - involved the purchase of guns from U.S. dealers by straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels. The agency was supposed to track the more than 2,000 guns purchased back to the cartels, BATF and Justice Department officials assigned to monitor the weapons lost track of most of them, reports later said.
Two of those guns - a pair of AK-47 rifles - were found at the scene of a shootout near the U.S.-Mexico border, in which border agent Brian Terry was killed.
The White House essentially dismissed Issa's assertions.
Critics hint at gun control agenda
"The Congressman’s analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told the paper.
"Our position is consistent with Executive Branch legal precedent for the past three decades spanning Administrations of both parties, and dating back to President Reagan’s Department of Justice," he said. "The Courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved."
Issa, at times, had suggested that the operation was part of a larger administration push for more gun control, a claim supported by documents obtained in December 2011 by CBS News.
The report cited an email exchange between ATF Field Ops Assistant Director Mark Chait and Bill Newell, ATF's Phoenix Special Agent in Charge of Fast and Furious, in July 2010.
"Bill - can you see if these guns were all purchased from the same (licensed gun dealer) and at one time. We are looking at anecdotal cases to support a demand letter on long gun multiple sales. Thanks," the email said, according to CBS News.
The following January, as ATF prepared a press conference to announce arrests in Fast and Furious, Newell emailed that he saw it as "(A)nother time to address Multiple Sale on Long Guns issue."
A day after the Jan. 4 news conference, Chait emailed Newell: "Bill--well done yesterday... (I)n light of our request for Demand letter 3, this case could be a strong supporting factor if we can determine how many multiple sales of long guns occurred during the course of this case."
The report also said U.S. gun dealers involved in the operation cited concerns about their involvement.
"We just want to make sure we are cooperating with ATF and that we are not viewed as selling to the bad guys," one gun dealer wrote to ATF officials in Phoenix. "(W)e were hoping to put together something like a letter of understanding to alleviate concerns of some type of recourse against us down the road for selling these items."
ATF's group supervisor on Fast and Furious, David Voth, responded, "We (ATF) are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques which I cannot go into detail."
Two months later, CBS News reported, the same gun dealer appeared more agitated.
"I wanted to make sure that none of the firearms that were sold per our conversation with you and various ATF agents could or would ever end up south of the border or in the hands of the bad guys. I guess I am looking for a bit of reassurance that the guns are not getting south or in the wrong hands...I want to help ATF with its investigation but not at the risk of agents (sic) safety because I have some very close friends that are US Border Patrol agents in southern AZ as well as my concern for all the agents (sic) safety that protect our country," the dealer wrote.
ATF and Justice Department officials declined to comment at the time of the report.
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